Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

Carnal Division Hinders Spiritual Wisdom

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual: In chapter two, verses 10-16, Paul informs the Corinthians that their knowledge of Jesus Christ and His gospel is dependent upon inspired men of God, the apostles. The "natural man" (one not inspired) was not able to learn the things of God because he relied upon man’s wisdom. Before their conversion, the Corinthians were following the teachings of uninspired men instead of being led and taught by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Paul tells them he could not speak unto them as if they were "spiritual" (pneumatikos) or as "one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God" (Thayer 523-2-4182).

but as unto carnal: Instead of being governed by the wisdom of the Spirit, they were governed by man’s wisdom before their conversion, causing them to be "carnal" (sarkinos), meaning "having the nature of flesh" (Thayer 569-1-4559). Thayer further comments that the word "carnal" implies being "governed by mere human nature (and) not by the Spirit of God." This word "carnal" correctly describes the Corinthians before their conversion as well as when they were young Christians.

Paul is not implying that the young or new Christians in Corinth did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized, for they did. Every Christian receives the Holy Spirit the moment he is obedient to Christ through repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). The "spiritual" development of that person, however, depended upon his totally submitting himself and allowing the Holy Spirit to govern his life. Likewise, today, we have the choice of being "spiritual" by growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord by submitting ourselves to the teachings of the scriptures. Or we can be "carnal" by submitting ourselves to the commandments of men and, therefore, continue to live as the unconverted live.

even as unto babes in Christ: The word "babes" (nepios) indicates that the Corinthians are being "childish, untaught, (and) unskilled" (Thayer 425-1-3516). By calling them "babes in Christ," Paul acknowledges they are in a state of transition; and this is the reason he is as tolerant with them as he is. He does not actually condemn them for their errors, but instead he implies that their errors were due to their being unlearned. As "babes in Christ," Paul indicates they are in an unsatisfactory condition in their spiritual growth and now they must hasten to change.

Verse 2

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: Because the Corinthians were "babes in Christ," Paul did not instruct them in the deeper matters of God. Rather, he taught them "milk" (gala) or "the less difficult truths of the Christian religion" (Thayer 108-1-1051). By the use of the word "milk," Paul is referring to the elementary doctrines of Christianity--the teachings that are actually necessary for becoming a Christian. By this time, however, they should have grown spiritually so that they might be able to receive the "meat" (broma) or the deeper matters of Christianity. The writer of the Hebrew letter says,

For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God (Hebrews 5:13-14).

Every Christian begins as an immature babe in Christ, but he must read and study God’s word so that he will not remain in that state and have to be retaught the elementary doctrines of Christianity. Paul says,

When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat (Hebrews 5:12).

Concerning this carnal state of the Corinthians, Lenski says,

A person of this kind may be ’in Christ’ as Paul here states regarding the Corinthians when they were still beginners in the faith, yet such a one ought to change from this condition as soon as possible. To have too much flesh is to have too little of the spirit or the new life in Christ. Unless the flesh is greatly reduced and the spirit increased, the latter will soon be smothered and killed. While the spirit is at first naturally weak like a babe it must soon grow strong in order to maintain itself, and the stronger it grows, the better (121).

for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able: Paul suddenly and strongly rebukes the Corinthians. He demonstrates patience toward them in the previous verse since they were "babes" and were expected to be unlearned. Therefore, he understood that at that time they "were not able to bear it." Now, however, they are at a point where they should have grown so that they could receive the deeper teaching from the word of God. But they had not grown to that point; therefore, Paul says, "neither yet now are ye able" to receive God’s more difficult messages. The warning here indicates that Paul considers their lack of knowledge inexcusable. They should have already grown in the faith, but they had not applied themselves to a diligent study of God’s will; therefore, they were still untaught Christians. They had not reached the "fullness of Christ" Paul refers to in Ephesians: "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (4:13).

The Corinthians were still allowing themselves to be so governed by human nature that many had reverted to the point of saying they were followers of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas instead of Christ (1:12). Such actions were inexcusable for those who had been Christians as long as they had. When they should have been well-established Christians, the Corinthians still had a "carnal" tendency; and, therefore, they had to be taught again. Paul had to continue speaking to them as if they were men of flesh instead of Christians. The carnal tendencies they were guilty of were "envying," "strife," and "divisions" (verse 3).

Verse 3

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

For ye are yet carnal: The Corinthians are still "carnal" and not able to receive the "meat" of the word. According to scholars such as Vine, Robertson, Vincent, and Trench, the term "carnal" used here is a different word from the one used in verse 1. Here Paul uses the word sarkikos, which is a much more severe term than sarkinos in verse 1. The difference between these two words is somewhat difficult to distinguish. Trench says,

When indeed St. Paul says of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:1) that they were sarkinoi (carnal), he finds serious fault indeed with them; but the accusation is far less grave than if he had written sarkikoi (carnal) instead....He does not charge them in this word with being antispiritual, but only with being unspiritual, with being flesh and little more, when they might have been much more. He goes on indeed, at verse 3,4, to charge them with the graver guilt of allowing the sarx (flesh) to work actively, as a ruling principle in them; and he consequently changes his word. They were not sarkinoi (carnal) only, for no man and no Church can long tarry at this point, but sarkikoi (carnal) as well, and, as such full of ’envying and strife and divisions’ (273-274).

for whereas there is among you envying: The descriptive term "envying" (zelos) refers to a "contentious rivalry" or "jealousy" (Thayer 271-1-2205).

and strife: The word "strife" (eris) indicates "contention" and "wrangling" (Thayer 249-2-2054).

and divisions: The word "divisions" (dichostasia) is defined by Thayer (153-1-1370) as "dissension."

Such terms as these are strong indications of immaturity and carnality, traits of fleshly men instead of traits of Christians. These traits are the result of following the wisdom of man instead of the wisdom of God. Paul here refers to his instructions in chapter one, verse 10:

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

are ye not carnal: At a time when the Corinthians should have grown to the point of having a strong bond with one another, they were not so joined together; instead, they were fleshly or carnal as indicated by their committing the works of the flesh:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

and walk as men: The word "walk" (peripateo) means "to regulate one’s life, to conduct one’s self" (Thayer 504-1-4043). Every person must decide for himself how to regulate his own life. Two choices are found in the scriptures. First, to "walk" in Christ as Paul indicates in Colossians: "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him" (2:6). To walk in Christ means "to live a life conformed to the union entered into with Christ" (Thayer 504-2-4043). The second way to "walk" is to "walk as men," meaning to live a life conformed and regulated by the teachings of man.

Instead of these actions, Paul’s desire for the Corinthians is for them to have the attitude found in Galatians 5:25-26: "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another."

Verse 4

For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?

Paul refers to his previous statement about their division over whom to follow in 1 Corinthians 1:12. Whenever a person acknowledges that he is following individual men--as many of the Corinthians did--he is also acknowledging that he is carnal. The Nestle Greek Text translates the word "carnal" from the Greek word anthropoi, which is usually translated "men." The Revised Standard Version renders this verse: "For when one says, ’I belong to Paul,’ and another, ’I belong to Apollos,’ are you not merely men?"

Verse 5

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos: Instead of "who," most translators use the word "what." If the word "who" is correct, the question means, "Who are Paul and Apollos as individual persons?" If, as I believe it is, the correct translation is "what," the question means, "What is their office?" "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each" (RSV). Vine says,

’What’ is more emphatic and wider in scope than ’who’; it moreover expresses disdain, implying that in themselves, being mere servants, though viewed otherwise by the partisan admirers, they are nothing (46).

but ministers by whom ye believed: In this verse Paul has asked a question and now he gives the obvious answer. The question is simply: What positions do Paul and Apollos occupy that allow you the right to divide the church over them? The answer to this question is that these men were not leaders of parties or sects; instead, they were "ministers" (diakonos) or "a servant" or an "attendant" (Thayer 138-1-1249) of God who preached the gospel of Christ to them so they could believe in Jesus. In other words, Paul and Apollos were laborers for Jesus Christ; thus they all (Paul, Apollos, the Corinthians, and all Christians) are to be one in Christ and not divided into partisan groups.

even as the Lord gave to every man: This statement is given to enforce the fact that the Corinthians were dependent upon the inspired men, whom God had given them to teach truth concerning the crucified Christ.

Verse 6

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

In Corinth, Paul "planted" the seed of the gospel, and Apollos "watered," meaning he taught the Corinthians more about Christianity. It was God, however, who had allowed the "increase" to occur by giving the seed the power to germinate. In explaining this process, Paul gives a picture of the natural process of the birth and growth of any Christian. Today, as God’s messengers, we must do our part in the spreading of the gospel; but it is the result of God’s blessing, and it is to His glory when people obey the gospel and grow in the Lord. Vincent says,

The two verbs (planted and watered) are in the aorist tense, marking definite acts; the third is in the imperfect, marking the continued gracious agency of God, and possibly the simultaneousness of His work with that of the two preachers. God was giving the increase while we planted and watered (Vol. III 200).

The metaphor that Paul uses here in comparing the growth of his work, in establishing the church at Corinth, to that of a garden is useful in our understanding of how we should treat a new work. Just as a garden that we may plant is not full grown when it is first planted and watered, neither are Christians expected to be fully mature when they are first converted to Christ.

Another point to be learned from this comparison is just as we must not neglect to work with the garden to keep out weeds, we must not neglect to work with new converts so they might grow in knowledge. Paul did his work in establishing the church at Corinth (Acts 18); and when he left, Apollos labored with them to build them up (Acts 19:1); but God gave the increase. Everything accomplished came about because of God. Acts 14:27 says, "And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles."

Verse 7

So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.

Every preacher today would better himself if he would always keep in mind that, in comparison with God, he is nothing. He can plant a seed in a garden, but God is the One who makes it grow. Likewise, the preacher is the agency whom God uses to spread His seed, the word of God. In response to sowing the seed, God blesses the seed; and it leads to salvation. Paul uses this example to emphasize that the Corinthians must not follow the teacher but Christ, the One the teacher is lifting up.

Verse 8

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: The one who "planteth" and the one who "watereth" (Paul and Apollos) are one in importance; therefore, they are not to be treated as competitors. If we plant a seed but fail to water it, it will die; therefore, there can be no growth. If we water but fail to plant a seed first, there is no growth. Therefore, both the one who plants and the one who waters are equal in importance; they are coworkers for God--they make up one unit. The Corinthians’ mistake was in attempting to exalt one man above the other when the works of both were equally important.

and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour: Paul is referring to preachers, especially to himself and Apollos; however, the principle applies to everyone. On the day of judgment, every person will receive his "own reward according to his own labour." The word "reward" (misthos) means to "pay for service" (Strong #3408). "Reward" means "divine recompense" (Thayer 415-2-3408). Man’s reward is based, not on his accomplishments or the success of his work, but upon the "labour" he puts forth. His reward is based upon his work and not on the results of his work.

Verse 9

For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.

Contextually, the "we" of this verse refers to Paul and Apollos. Paul is reconfirming the truth found in verse 8, that "he that planteth and he that watereth are one." In the first analogy, the church at Corinth is "God’s husbandry" or field, and Paul and Apollos are "one" in the sense that both are God’s "labourers" in that field.

In the second comparison, the church is referred to as God’s building or the "temple of God" (verse 17). In this analogy Paul and Apollos are still one in the sense of being "labourers" in this building while God is the owner. The mentioning of "God’s building" is an introduction to the analogy found in the next eight verses. Paul changes the analogy from a field or a vineyard to a building to explain different types of teaching that he would not be able to explain in the first metaphor.

Verse 10

The Proper Construction of God’s Building

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation: Paul does not picture himself as a designer of the building, but as one who actually works to raise the building. He refers to himself as a "wise masterbuilder." "Wise" (sophos) means "skilled" or an "expert" (Thayer 582-2-4680). God blessed Paul with a great knowledge of His word and bestowed spiritual gifts upon him. Paul used these blessings when he laid the foundation of the church at Corinth, by preaching the crucified Christ to them (Acts 18:8).

This metaphor works wonderfully with the idea of establishing a new congregation because, as Paul states in verse 1, those at Corinth were "babes in Christ." In this metaphor Paul does not contend that he was responsible for the complete, perfect building, but simply that he "laid the foundation," implying that he started the work but still there was much work to be done.

and another buildeth thereon: Paul acknowledges that he did not build this building by himself but that he had help from others. Paul does not refer only to Apollos, but to any builder, any teacher, who would come to Corinth after he left. His warning is against false teaching. This building (the church) belongs to God; therefore, the "builders" must be careful about the instructions they give to the church.

But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon: Paul instructs the Corinthians to "take heed" (blepo) or "to turn the thoughts or direct the mind to" (Thayer 103-2-991) "how" he is building on God’s building. While working on God’s building, the laborers must not build to please themselves; they must not use man-made material but spiritual material. They must follow God’s blueprint. At the time of this writing, there were already divisions in this church where Paul had laid the foundation. The divisions came, not from the foundation Paul laid of the crucified Christ, but from the false teachers who came after Paul, declaring that Jesus was not the Christ and that Christ had not been crucified.

Verse 11

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid: The word "for" (gar) ties this verse, as well as verses 12-15, with the previous verse by explaining the warning given by Paul. Every teacher who goes to Corinth must "take heed how he buildeth" upon this foundation; for the foundation, the crucified Christ, is God’s work--He designed it! It has already been laid, and there is no room for another. This "foundation" is spoken of by the Lord in Isaiah 28:16: "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste."

which is Jesus Christ: After Peter confesses Jesus in Matthew 16:16, Jesus says,

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (the foundation that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the Living God") I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

There was never a question in Paul’s mind as to whether this foundation was the right foundation because it was the one and only foundation designed by God. The building is God’s house; therefore, the foundation, the material, and the location must be according to His wishes. The teachers who follow Paul into Corinth must not alter, change, or modify God’s foundation in any way. For if they do, it becomes another foundation and no longer belongs to God; thus He rejects it. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ is this foundation!

Verse 12

Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

Paul is introducing two different classes: "Gold, silver, (and) precious stones" make up one class that is strong and durable. "Wood, hay, (and) stubble" make up the second class, portraying weakness and something temporary. There is some controversy over what the two classes represent. One view, which seems to be the most popular, is that the two classes refer to the doctrines or the teachings delivered by man. In this view the durable materials of "gold, silver, (and) precious stones" represent the truth. On the other hand, perishable materials of "wood, hay, (and) stubble" represent false teachings.

The second view is that the two classes refer to people or converts. In this view, which seems to be the correct one, "gold, silver, (and) precious stones" make up one class, referring to Christian people who are strong and stable, having been taught the truth. The second class, represented by "wood, hay, (and) stubble," refers to people who are weak and sinful because of false doctrines.

Verses 10 and 11 provide sharp warnings about how teachers are to build on God’s building. They are told to "take heed" (verse 10) and that "no foundation" other than the teachings of the crucified Christ can be laid. The Corinthians were troubled, even to the point of division, because of false teachers.

Here in verse 12, Paul is telling them, through this metaphor about the building, that the doctrines taught, even though they are taught in God’s building (church), must be watched carefully. Every person is responsible for what he believes; thus he must be careful to examine the truth he is taught so that he will not be deceived by error. If he believes and practices false doctrines, he will be lost; if he believes and practices the truth, he will be saved. Man will give account for his own actions, a concept that Paul teaches also in his second letter to the Corinthians:

Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences (2 Corinthians 5:9-11).

Verse 13

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: On the day of judgment, "every man’s work shall be made manifest." People who are deceived into believing and practicing false doctrines may never, while living on this earth, acknowledge that they are fruits of false doctrine; however, on the judgment day, the false teacher’s work (their teachings and fruits of their labors which are the converts) shall be made "manifest" (phaneros). Thayer says their teachings and their converts shall be "apparent" or "known" to all (648-1-5318).

for the day shall declare it: Paul here uses the first of three different verbs to stress what will allow their "work" to be made known. First, he says, the day (the judgment day) shall "declare" (deloo) the actions of men; Strong says the judgment day shall "make plain" these actions (#1213).

because it shall be revealed by fire: Secondly, Paul emphasizes that the teaching (false or true) "shall be revealed by fire." The term "revealed" (apokalupto) means to "disclose what before was unknown" (Thayer 62-1-601).

and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is: Thirdly, Paul says that fire shall "try" (dokimazo) every man’s work. Fire shall "test, examine, prove, (and) scrutinize" (Thayer 154-2-1381) every man’s work to see whether a thing be genuine or not.

In this metaphor, "fire" will make known every man’s work. In judgment, everyone will understand the character of man’s teaching--is it from God or from man? Does his teaching compare to "gold, silver, (and) precious stones" and, therefore, create stable Christians who will remain faithful until the end; or does his teaching compare to perishable materials such as "wood, hay, (and) stubble" and therefore perish?

Beginning in verse 10, Paul uses metaphors to teach the truth. In the first, he speaks of constructing God’s building upon a good foundation, speaking of teachers’ building upon the foundation of the crucified Christ and teaching the gospel message.

In the second metaphor, "fire" is pictured as the deciding factor to determine what is good and what is bad. A carpenter builds a house of durable materials that will endure a fire; therefore, when a fire strikes this house, the work is not lost, for it was built with fireproof materials. On the other hand, a carpenter builds a house with perishable materials; thus, when fire strikes this house, all the work done is destroyed. When the fire is out, everyone knows whether this house was built with good or bad material.

Verse 14

If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon: "Man’s work" refers to his converts to Christ--those who are taught the truth. These are the converts who are faithful and, therefore, will "abide" or stay until the end.

he shall receive a reward: The individual teacher receives a reward because of his fruits--his converts. This "reward" does not refer to salvation; instead, it refers to the joy that he has in seeing that his labor of teaching the truth to this person was not in vain. Paul makes reference to rejoicing because of his converts when he says, "Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain" (Philippians 2:16). This same conclusion is reached in Paul’s metaphor about the vineyard in verse 8, where he says, "...every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour." John teaches this same message in 2 John 1:8: "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward." This reward is the joy the teacher has because of his labors. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, Paul speaks of an occasion where his reward is made known: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy." Speaking of Paul’s converts in Corinth, his joy is seen when he said, "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men" (2 Corinthians 3:2).

Verse 15

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: Paul now speaks of the negative side, discussing the one who receives the truth and does not remain faithful. If the convert does not endure to the end, the teacher "shall suffer loss" (zeemioo), indicating "to sustain damage (or) to receive injury" (Thayer 272-1-2210). Just as in verse 14 the "reward" does not refer to salvation, neither does the "loss" refer to salvation. The teacher suffers a "loss" because his labor was in vain. He could no longer say, as Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 2:20, "For ye are our glory and joy."

but he himself shall be saved: The backsliding of a teacher’s convert does not mean that the teacher would be punished. He is still a faithful Christian teacher; therefore, he will be saved if he does not follow the steps of the backslider.

yet so as by fire: The phrase "yet so as by fire" does not teach the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. It is important to notice that Paul is not speaking to man in general but only to Christian teachers. Paul does not say that the teacher would be saved IN fire, but "so as by fire." "The ’as if’ (’so as’) shows the phrase to be figurative, having a narrow escape" (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Vol. III 291). He will be saved in the same manner as one who narrowly escapes death by going through fire to reach safety.

The phrase "yet so as by fire" continues the metaphor of the builder. The man builds a house, fire strikes the house; and even though he may suffer the loss from the destroyed house, he will be saved by running through the fire to safety. Just because the house is burned does not mean that the builder must burn. In other words, the teacher’s salvation does not depend on whether or not his converts remain faithful, but whether or not he has taught and obeyed the truth of God’s word (see verse 13 for more comments dealing with "fire").

Verse 16

God’s Temple

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God: This verse is sometimes taken out of context by people attempting to prove that our bodies are the temples of God; and, therefore, if we do anything (verse 17) to our bodies or if we put anything into our bodies that harms us, we sin. Of course, willfully harming our bodies is certainly sinful, but this is not Paul’s teaching here. In this verse Paul continues his metaphor of the church as a building by showing that the building (the church), not our physical bodies, is the temple of God. Paul here speaks of the church in a congregational sense. By the word "ye," which is plural, he is having reference to those who make up the congregation in Corinth as being the "temple of God."

By the words "know ye not," Paul is appealing to their own consciousness. He realizes they know, or at least should have known, that they make up God’s temple, the church. Paul uses the term "temple" (naos) to impress upon the Corinthians’ minds that the church and its teachings are to be regarded as sacred and, therefore, unchangeable. The word "temple" (naos) meaning sanctuary, is used metaphorically "of a company of Christians, a Christian church, as dwelt in by the Spirit of God" (Thayer 422-2-3485).

Paul is comparing the church at Corinth not only to the temple as a whole but to the most sacred part of the temple in Jerusalem and to the innermost part of the Tabernacle where the ark and mercy seat were found. This was the holiest of all areas where the Spirit of God dwelled; and the sacredness that was found there was comparable to the sacredness of the church, the assembly, or the Christians who made up the church in Corinth. It is in this spiritual temple, the church, that the Spirit of God dwells today. In the second letter to the Corinthians (6:16) Paul says, " are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you: Just as the "Spirit of God" dwelled in the innermost part or in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle, He also dwells in the church today. In writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul says,

Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Verse 17

If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.

If any man defile the temple of God: In verse 14, Paul speaks of the man whose works withstood the test of fire; but now in this verse he is speaking of the teacher who teaches false doctrine. Paul’s warning to Corinthian teachers is that they must be careful not to teach false doctrine, not to cause problems within the church, for if they do so, they are not only dividing the church but are guilty of "defiling" or destroying God’s dwelling place. The words "defile" and "destroy" come from the same Greek term phthiro, meaning "to corrupt" (Thayer 652-1-5351). The "temple" (the church) is defiled, as Thayer comments, by leading "away a Christian church from that state of knowledge and holiness in which it ought to abide." Many in Corinth were already guilty of this act of causing divisions by encouraging others to be followers of man instead of Christ (1:11-13). Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is that if they do such things God will "destroy" or "punish" them (Thayer 652-2-5351).

him shall God destroy: Paul warns that God will not dwell in a church they "defile" by false teaching or corrupt with divisions. Anyone found guilty of teaching false doctrine or bringing into the church practices not authorized by God, Paul says, "him shall God destroy."

The church, to be presented to God, must be free of defilement. In Ephesians 5:27, Paul, speaking of the condition of the church, says, "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." A divided church is a blemished church; therefore, God leaves it. Applebury observes the truths of division when he says,

The effectiveness of the church can be destroyed by the sin of division. The sin of division dishonors Christ, the head of the church; it dims the glory of the church, the bride of Christ; it tends to neutralize the message of the church, the gospel of Christ; it weakens the believers who are members of the body of Christ (58).

for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are: Paul is clearly identifying Christians, who make up the church, as being the holy temple of God. Consequently, they are warned not to have strife with one another or to do things that do not make for peace or that might disrupt the sanctity of this holy dwelling place of God.

Verse 18

Remedy for Division

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

Let no man deceive himself: Up to this point in this letter, Paul has rebuked the Corinthians because of divisions among them. Now he gives a three-step remedy for this situation:

The first step toward a remedy is "Let no man deceive himself." The verb "deceive" (exapatao), meaning "to seduce wholly" (Strong #1818), is in the present imperative, signifying let no man keep on deceiving himself. Any hope of doing away with division comes from man’s not deceiving himself any longer. These teachers have reached a point where they have convinced themselves that they are wise enough to change the Lord’s teaching. Paul now tells them that in order not to have divisions among them, they must change this deception, understand the worthlessness of human wisdom, and, at the same time, understand the dangers of changing God’s instructions.

The second step of this remedy for division is "let no man glory in men" (1:21). This problem was the initial cause of their divisions (1:10-13).

The third step is found in the first verse of the next chapter, "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God."

If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world: In chapter one, verse 26, Paul refers to some of the Corinthians as being "wise men after the flesh." In this verse Paul makes the same reference by referring to them as being "wise in this world." Paul is speaking of those in the world who think themselves to be wise. The second step (as mentioned above) of a cure for division is to reject these philosophers--do not glory in them.

let him become a fool, that he may be wise: In the statement "let him become a fool, that he may be wise," Paul is referring to chapter one, verses 18-25, where he told the Corinthian teachers that to the world the preaching of Jesus Christ is foolishness. William Barclay explains this point by saying,

Paul, in a vivid phrase, urges the man who would be wise to become a fool. This is a simple way of urging a man to be humble enough to learn. No one can teach a man who thinks that he knows it all already. Plato said, ’He is the wisest man who knows himself to be very ill-equipped for the study of wisdom’ (39).

Paul is challenging these teachers to realize that if preaching Christ is foolishness, they should become a fool in the sight of the world in order to have true wisdom in the sight of Jesus Christ. Solomon warns, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding....Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil" (Proverbs 3:5; Proverbs 3:7).

Verse 19

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God: Paul now gives a reason for his statement in verse 18. He refers to the subject about which he was speaking in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and applies it to the subject at hand concerning false teachers. In verse 17, Paul warns the teachers that if they defile the church with their wisdom (their false teaching), God would consider this act so foolish that He would destroy both them and their works. Paul’s desire is for these self-deceiving teachers to realize that their wisdom is "foolishness" when compared to God. By the term "foolishness" (moria), Paul means that their wisdom is "absurd" (Strong #3472) when contrary to God’s wisdom.

For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: In Paul’s writings he often refers to the old law to emphasize a point as he does here in quoting Job, "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness..." (Job 5:13). The word "taketh" (drassomai) is defined as "to grasp with the hand" (Thayer 158-2-1405). And the word "craftiness" (panourgia) literally means "cunning"; however, contextually it means "specious or false wisdom" (Thayer 476-1-3834). In referring to this Old Testament statement, Paul warns that God will take hold of the false teacher and destroy him with his own false wisdom. This is the same message that Paul has for the churches at Galatia where he says, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

The instructions here do not apply only to those of the first century but also to us today. Man is often seen challenging God’s wisdom by comparing his wisdom to God’s by defiling the worship service of the church with his own opinions. When God’s teaching conflicts with man’s personal likes and dislikes, man often does not change his opinion; but he attempts to change God’s teaching to fit his personal opinion. Such actions are seen in every innovation found in the church.

Verse 20

And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

Once again Paul quotes an Old Testament scripture: "The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity" (Psalms 94:11). Paul did not quote this passage verbatim, instead, he modified it (using the word "wise" instead of "man") in order to apply the teaching to the subject that he is discussing. This modification does not change the original teaching. By the term "vain" (mataios), Paul means that the false doctrines of the "wise" teachers are "useless" and "to no purpose" (Thayer 393-1-3152). Human knowledge and false doctrines will not provide another way of salvation; therefore, they are of no value.

By applying this Old Testament passage to the subject at hand, Paul makes two points: (1) God knows the thoughts of man, and (2) God knows man’s thoughts are useless when compared to His. Man is constantly trying to improve what God has perfected in worship. Through his own "wisdom," man is weakening the church by thinking he is improving the church. The Lord’s church becomes weaker and defiled every time it is divided over manmade innovations and human inventions. Paul’s desire for the Corinthians is that they will not deceive themselves by following worldly wisdom. He wants them to realize the wisdom of man is useless in the sense that it is unable to produce anything that will save man from sin outside of what God has given.

Verses 21-22

Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;

Most of Paul’s words, up to this point, have been words of rebuke; but the three concluding verses of this chapter are words of encouragement.

Therefore let no man glory in men: In the statement "let no man glory in men," Paul is speaking not only about the false teachers, but he is including such brethren as himself, Apollos and Cephas, who were teaching the truth. Paul realizes that the Corinthians are glorying in them by lifting them up on a pedestal because of their relationship with them; therefore, he tells them to follow men only when they are following Christ, for Christ has all authority. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, "All power (authority) is given unto me in heaven and in earth."

For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas: Paul is here emphasizing they are not to glory in him, Apollos, or Cephas. There is no need to glory in them because "all things are yours." Paul, Apollos, and Cephas were given to the Corinthians to enable them to learn of Jesus Christ.

or the world: Paul says "the world" is yours, meaning everything in the world that is not sinful was given to them from God for their benefit.

or life: God has blessed the Corinthians with the gift of "life."

or death: God has also given "death" as a way of coming to Him in heaven, as Paul says in Philippians 1:21, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

or things present: By the words "things present," Paul refers to all things in this world.

or things to come; all are yours: By "things to come," Paul refers to things of a heavenly nature. If they are faithful to God and His teachings, they do not have to esteem others greater than themselves, for "all" things that are good were provided by God and are to be used for their benefit in service to God. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Verse 23

And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.

And ye are Christ’s: Paul now clears up the matter for the Corinthians. He has instructed them not to glory in Paul, Apollos, or Cephas as their head because they do not belong to them. These men of God were given to the Corinthians for their benefit--and they belong to Christ.

and Christ is God’s: "Christ is God’s" in the sense that Christ came to do the work of God on this earth. He did not come to do His own will, but His Father’s will (John 5:30). Therefore, in order to avoid division in the church, we must be His followers. These instructions echo the prayer of Jesus Christ:

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world (John 17:21-24).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3". "Contending for the Faith". 1993-2022.